“Sarah Huckabee Sanders does not look like the kind of woman Donald Trump would choose as his chief spokesperson” is how Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist David Horsey opens a piece on the highly skilled “truth-twister” in the Los Angeles Times.“Sanders looks more like a slightly chunky soccer mom who organizes snacks for the kids’ game,” he continued.
Horsey has apologized to his readers and to Sanders after getting flak from his audience for being incredibly sexist as well as for making remarks that are highly fat-shaming, and has removed the wording from the column.
In a way, Horsey is right — Sanders doesn’t look like the women with whom Trump usually surrounds himself, nor is she a skinny, upbeat blond like the only other two female White House press secretaries before her (Dee Dee Myers and Dana Perino). But likening Sanders to a chunky soccer mom was not at all relevant to the point that Horsey was trying to make, and it detracted from that point: She is a phenomenal liar. So good, it’s scary. She is less likely than her predecessor, Sean Spicer, to humiliate herself because she doesn’t have a poker tell.
Spicer quivered at each question, trying to dodge the press, not knowing how to formulate a lie. But Sanders is cold, calculated, and prepared for this position. She bounces off questions with analogies and prepares long stories that don’t allow for questions. Her low, monotonous monologue after the mass shooting in Las Vegas was so well-rehearsed and worded that it avoided any mention of gun control. She spoke of God and the bravery of first responders, but she would not allow for political debate. Sanders’s weight is not and was not the basis of Horsey’s article, and anyone reading it now would find it still makes a case that our nation’s newest press secretary is a master of what Horsey calls “deranged political jujitsu.”
But just because the rest of the article has merit doesn’t mean that the fat-shaming should be swept under the rug. It seems that in the anger of not knowing what to do about the administration’s neglect for truth — like saying the Trump team didn't collude with Russia when all evidence shows the opposite — Sanders is becoming a target. And rightfully so, as she is the conduit of the president's lies, but the anger we aim at her should be for the lies she tells and not the way she presents herself. After all, Aaron Sorkin made damn sure that nobody was ever praised for criticizing C.J. Cregg’s appearance on The West Wing.
One issue that some are having with the Sanders parodies is not just how they play her character, but also who plays her character. Is it a comment on her weight to be portrayed by actors who are known to play up their character’s heaviness? Out comedian Fortune Feimster plays Sanders on Chelsea, but Feimster also portrays other characters on the Netflix show, such as Ann Coulter, Ivanka Trump, and Santa. So perhaps with Feimster, this casting isn’t a commentary. But more recently, Saturday Night Live debuted a parody of the press secretary with Aidy Bryant playing the lead role, singing along to Demi Lovato’s “Confident.”
Bryant has previously been seen in glimpses on the show as Sanders, when she filled in for Sean Spicer, introducing herself by saying, “My father is Mike Huckabee, and my mother is a big Southern hamburger.” Bryant’s other character impersonations include Adele, Kim Davis, Meghan Trainor, Rebel Wilson, Wynonna Judd — who all have being curvy in common. Maybe the only basis for the casting of Bryant is that she was the best for the job, she is hilariously talented, and she has the Emmy nomination and fan base to prove it. Maybe she’s playing Sanders because she’s the cast member who most looks the part, and because it's easier to have a regular castmember in a role that became essential to satirize instead of flying in Melissa McCarthy from Los Angeles.
Regardless, this latest episode featured Bryant — as Sanders — writhing around on a desk, touching her breasts, and wearing a Lovato-like bodysuit sans pants. What was the joke here, exactly?
The song choice is also open to question. Lovato, a pop star who has a history of being in and out of rehab, released a documentary on YouTube in October in which she admitted to battling eating disorders and body dysmorphia. Sanders and the writers at Saturday Night Live are asking the same question: What is wrong with being confident?
There is nothing wrong with being confident — not about your weight, not about your looks, height, the way you talk, or the people you surround yourself with. But it’s wrong to be so comfortable and confident about spewing lies or keeping truths from the people of the United States. The rest of us may have “had you underrated,” to quote the Demi Lovato song, and that includes the cast of Saturday Night Live, who may have underestimated the destruction that Sanders could leave in her highly capable wake. In last season's closing episode, SNL cast members Sasheer Zamata and Mikey Day ask Sanders to stick around, because she was “clearly articulate and charming.” They had no idea what they were asking for.
RACHEL HULEY is an intern for The Advocate.